Jazz at 100 Hour 86: Weather Report (1971 – 1976)

Joe Zawinul – Jaco Pastorius – Wayne Shorter

By 1970, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul were recognized as two of the finest hard bop composers and players having contributed the full range of their talents to The Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis Quintet (in Shorter’s case) and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet (in Zawinul’s). Both contributed to Davis’s Bitches Brew sessions and in 1971 formed the supergroup Weather Report, one of the most popular, influential and long-lived fusion bands.

Weather Report, I Sing The Body Electric, and Sweetnighter
In the initial 1971-configuration of Weather Report, Miroslav Vitous was on bass, with drums and percussion from Alphonse Mouton, Barbara Burton and Airto Moreira. This lineup recorded the first enonymous LP. For the second LP, later in 1971, Eric Gravatt and Dom Um Romao assumed percussion duties and several guests, like guitarist Ralph Towner, were invited to participate. At the beginning, the composing responsibilities were split between Zawinul, Shorter and Vitous, although over time Zawinul assumed more and more of that responsibility.

“The first two albums, the eponymous one and I Sing The Body Electric, had a faintly mysterious, otherworldly quality that certainly didn’t reflect the group’s live presence at the time, but probably did reflect the compositional influence and personality of Wayne Shorter.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Eurydice. Weather Report
(Wayne Shorter-ss/ts, Joe Zawinul-p, Miroslav Vitous-b, Alphonze Mouzon-d, Barbara Burton-per, Airto Moreira-per/voc). From Weather Report. 2/17/1971
Composed by Wayne Shorter.

The Moors. Weather Report
(Wayne Shorter-s/ts, Joe Zawinul-p, Miroslav Vitous-b, Eric Gravatt-d, Dom Um Romao-per with Ralph Towner-g). From I Sing The Body Electric. 11/1971
Composed by Wayne Shorter.

Weather Report’s third release Sweetnighter has an extended Joe Zawinul jam opening both sides of the LP. These groove heavy jams, ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’ and ‘125th Street Congress,’ forecast the direction that would dominate the band for the next decade.

Boogie Woogie Waltz. Weather Report
(Wayne Shorter-ts/ss, Joe Zawinul-p, Miroslav Vitous-b, Andrew White-b, Herschel Dwellingham-d, Dom Um Romao-per, Maruga-per). From Sweetnighter. 2/5/1973
Composed by Joe Zawinul.

Mysterious Traveller.
“After Sweetnighter in 1972, the group was much more obviously dominated by Zawinul’s very individual sense of rhythm – neither swinging, nor ‘African’, but something of his own – and by a funky quality which in many respects was more successfully achieved than former boss Miles Davis’s explorations in the same direction … [Mysterious Traveller] is still perhaps the most sheerly beautiful of the Weather Report records, from the wild joy of ‘Nubian Sundance’ with its synth-enhanced crowd noises, … to the quietness of ‘Blackthorn Rose’, a lyrical duet that may represent a point of maximum closeness between the group’s founders at the very moment when Zawinul seemed set to take over; Shorter’s soprano-line is still undervalued, one of his finest on record. Some of the material was recorded at Zawinul’s home, with his kids romping in the background, and only later put together in the studio, and it is this balance between improvisational immediacy and brilliantly crafted overdubbing that gives the record its lasting freshness and power.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Nubian Sundance. Weather Report
(Wayne Shorter-ss/ts/p, Joe Zawinul-key, Alphonso Johnson-b, Ishamel Wilburn-d, Skip Haden-d, Dom Um Romao-per/d, Ishmael Menuga Wilburn-per). From Mysterious Traveller. 2/1974
Composed by Joe Zawinul.

Blacktorn Rose. Weather Report
(Wayne Shorter-ss, Joe Zawinul-key). From Mysterious Traveller. 2/1974
Composed by Wayne Shorter.

Enter Jaco Pastorius.
Jaco Pastorius’s enonymous debut LP “was made just before he joined Weather Report. Jaco makes a clear statement by starting the session with a brilliant realization on bass guitar of Miles Davis’s ‘Donna Lee’ … but then immediately following up with a soul song, ‘Come On, Come Over’, which features vocals by Sam and Dave. At one level, it all sounds a little forced and more than a little like special pleading – for the fretless bass, for a certain kind of ‘eclecticism’ – but Jaco’s musical imagination had sufficient force to hold such disparate material together and make a convincing whole of it. His collaboration with Herbie Hancock on ‘Kuru/Speak Like A Child’ is quite brilliantly conceived and the arrangement of ‘Okonkole Y Trompa’, written for bass and French horn, is among the most ambitious, but quite simple, things he ever did.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Jaco Pastorius’s “… solo on ‘Donna Lee,’ beyond being astounding for just the fact that it was played with a hornlike phrasing that was previously unknown to the bass guitar, is even more notable for being one of the freshest looks at how to play on a well traveled set of chord changes in recent jazz history—not to mention that it’s just about the hippest start to a debut album in the history of recorded music.” – Pat Metheney

Donna Lee. Jaco Pastorius – Don Alias duo
(Jaco Pastorius-b, Don Alias-cga). From Jaco Pastorius. 1976
Composed by Miles Davis.

Okonkole Y Trompa. Jaco Pastorius
(Peter Gordon-frh, Jaco Pastorius-b, Don Alias-okonkoko/iya/cga/afuche). From Jaco Pastorius. 1976
Composed by Jaco Pastorius & Don Alias.

“With Jaco as its foundation, Weather Report had reached its commercial and some would say artistic zenith, especially with the 1976 album Heavy Weather, featuring Zawinul’s catchy ‘Birdland,’ a tribute to the jazz club named after [Charlie] Parker. ‘Teen Town’ is a Pastorius showcase … The tune features a peculiar chord progression cycling through four major triads. The cords are simple but ambiguous: no one key can contain them all. Over this shifting background, Pastorius plays a melody line that snakes its way through different rhythms with unexpected accents. It sounds improvised but is composed, as becomes clear when it begins to repeat. Still, there are moments when Pastorius the improviser trumps Pastorius the composer, adjusting his line to the heat of performance. While Pastorius is clearly in front, the tune also works as a dialogue – sometimes with [Wayne] Shorter, who plays brief solos that hint at his remarkable melodic invention, but more often with [Joe] Zawinul.” – Gary Giddins & Scott Deveaux

Teen Town. Weather Report
(Wayne Shorter-ss, Joe Zawinul-p, Jaco Pastorius-b/d, Manolo Badrena-per. From Heavy Weather. 10/1976. (The Norton Jazz Collection)
Composed by Jaco Pastorius.

“As the 1970s were wrapping up, the golden age of fusion was coming to a mostly unhappy ending. Weather Report continued to record new albums until 1986, but the later installments of the band matched neither the commercial success nor critical esteem it had achieved a decade earlier. The following year Jaco Pastorius, who had left the band in 1981, died as the result of a beating at the hands of a nightclub doorman, but substance abuse problems and mental instability had already effectively ended his brief reign as a fusion star. Return to Forever had split up even earlier, disbanding after the 1977 Musicmagic release. Except for a brief get-together in 1983, the group would not reassemble until its 2008 reunion tour. Mahavishnu Orchestra also disbanded in 1976 (although it too attempted a 1980s reunion). Even Miles Davis took an extended break from the scene, all but disappearing from 1975 to 1981. By the time he returned, the fusion movement he had set in motion was clearly in decline.” – Ted Gioia

Previously in this series we have surveyed record labels as representative of the jazz trends in their times – for example bebop on Dial in the 40s, mainstream jazz on Verve in the 50s, and hard bop on Blue Note in the 60s. The German label ECM can be seen as representative of a major trend of the 70s. Joachim-Ernst Behrendt writes that this is the decade when “European jazz found itself.” The early recordings on the ECM label in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Weather Report. Weather Report. Columbia C 30661
Weather Report. I Sing The Body Electric. Columbia KC 31352
Weather Report. Sweetnighter. Columbia KC 32210
Weather Report. Mysterious Traveller. Columbia KC 32494
Jaco Pastorius. Jaco Pastorius. Epic PE 33949
Weather Report. Heavy Weather. Columbia PC 34418

Giddins, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 17. Fusion II: Jazz, Rock and Beyond
Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz (pp. 328-329). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Chapter 8. Freedom and Fusion
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Weather Report. Mysterious Traveller.
Jaco Pastorius, Jaco Pastorius

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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